Saturday, July 7, 2012

» Cafe culture with a cause

Business Times: Sat, Jul 07

On the crest of a new wave
Societe Canteen
501 Bukit Timah Road, Cluny Court, #01-05B
Open: 10am- 7pm Tue-Fri, 8am-7pm Sat-Sun

EVEN before his new cafe opened, Jonathan Tu had three people calling in - not for reservations, but to ask about an edgy reinterpretation of the Mona Lisa hanging on the wall of Societe Canteen.

"The Ruins of Mona Lisa" by local artist Ashley Khoo is not just part of the decor, but for sale at $970.

"It's the first time she had her works displayed publicly... I wanted her works on my wall, and she agreed", says Mr Tu.

The arrangement was imperative for the Australian Mr Tu, because he believes riding the third wave of coffee isn't just about the F&B but the overall philosophy.

That's why he is also retailing items like energy-saving Plumen bulbs ($50) and Australia's T2 tea ($10-$15) at low margins - they are things which are in keeping with his bohemian style and he'd like to spread the word.

The ex-banker gave up a cushy job for Societe Canteen: "I've had a strong passion for coffee my whole life and I had an epiphany just one day," says the 26-year-old. "The job I had was very stable - I could see where I was going for the next 10 years - so I told myself to try something different while I'm still young ... and I think Singapore really welcomes businesses, it's safe and I love the weather!"

The cafe is welcoming as well, lively with natural light, and minimally done up with a simple air of sophistication. It's a great place to kick back and relax to a cuppa and a poached salmon or free-range chicken sandwich with fillings prepared in-house ($10-$15).

Cupcakes by a friend are for sale too - try the red velvet with a sinfully delicious Nutella core ($4).

"More Singaporeans are going to Australia to study, and they absolutely love the coffee and brunch culture," says Mr Tu. "Hanging out in cafes is a way of life that they are bringing back here!"

By Tan Teck Heng

A refined speakeasy
The Vault
237 South Bridge Road
TEL 6222-5001
Hours: 11am till late (Bistro); 5pm till late (Lounge)

 OCCUPYING a historic shophouse unit that was formerly the premises of OCBC Bank, it's little wonder the owners of a new bistro, lounge and art space in Chinatown have named their venture, The Vault (right).

With an all-day living room-style diner on the first floor and a 1920s Prohibition era speakeasy lounge on the second, its moniker and design are accentuated by the impressive entrance which resembles that of a walk-in bank vault door.

It is set up by music consultant Godwin Pereira and F&B veteran Ross Glasscoe.

The duo previously worked together on rooftop bar Ying Yang, the place aims to showcases emerging artists of various disciplines - from visual arts and design to photography and film - every month.

Come late July, it will be exhibiting the latest prints of Singapore artist Afiq Omar between the beams and columns of its lounge. Stepping into the space, one feels instantly transported to New York or London, places known for their amalgamation of the arts.

Cocktails and tapas are served while one admires the paintings hung on the space's original brick walls which were stacked back in the 1920's.

There's a definite bohemian feel to the place, especially with the soulful house music trailing in the background.

You'll get lost in the ambience and it's easy to forget you're still in Chinatown until you look past the plush chesterfields and copper-tinged furnishings, through the gaping windows and catch sight of the ornate gopuram (towering facade) of Sri Mariamman Temple.

"It's a lot about bringing things back to basics," says Mr Pereira. "We want it to be a place where people can sink into the ambience and mingle."

By April Chye

Perk up your wardrobe
Made with Lauren Jasmine
47 Amoy Street
TEL 6423-0626
Hours: Mon - Fri 8am -6pm; Sat 10am - 4pm Closed on Sun

AT Made by Lauren Jasmine, one gets not only a coffee fix, but also the luxury to pick out a new dress while they browing in the store.

The three-week-old boutique-cumcafe sells stylish officewear for women by self-taught designer Hazel Chang (right) alongside a range of gourmet coffees, desserts and afternoon bites - with prices starting at $3.30 for a top/black coffee to $6.50 for a premium blend.

"I was looking for a place that was cosy and had character," says the 28-year-old Ms Chang, who runs two other boutiques, Eclectism in Paragon and Lauren Jasmine in Pacific Plaza.

For her third venture, she decided to tap into the bubbling hot local love of coffee because "we felt a cafe and label would meld well with each other, particularly in this location," she shares.

Additionally, the dual-concept store sells salads, signature sandwiches such as Portobello mushroom with sundried tomatoes ($7.90) and a tantalising range of desserts by local bakers that includes macarons to cupcakes ($4).

Ms Chang states that her focus on clothes has not shifted even with the addition of a cafe corner. "Lauren Jasmine releases two collections every year and we are in the process of launching our fifth collection," she elaborates.

The two-year-old label's namesake is Ms Chang's six-year-old niece, whom the former describes as a little fashionista: "She knows what she wants and dares to express herself through what she wears - our clothing line reflects this attitude."

Her most recent collection, priced from $120 for a top to $200 for a dress, showcases bold prints, bright colours but with lines and pleats conservative enough to avoid being the subject of office gossip.

A collection for men is not in the works so unfortunately for the boys, they will just have to be content with a caffeine fix.

By Aaron Justin Tan

Eclectic fare with art on view
Mad Nest
378-380 East Coast Road
TEL 6348-6861
Open: 4pm-1am Mon-Thurs; 4pm-2am Fri and PH Eve; 11am-2am Sat, 11am-1am Sun and Public Holidays

WHO said you need to buy art in a stuffy gallery? Trade that snobby bubbly for a beer at Mad Nest, a hip pub and eatery-cum-art retail space.

"We're trying to bring art closer to people in a space that is not intimidating - unlike a proper gallery," says Darren Lee, Mad Nest's marketing spokesman and director of branding studio UNIFORM. So other than the art on display, small details like the paper dining mats - which look like picture frames - are meant to encourage creative doodling while dining. "Or they can scribble down notes like 'buy this' or 'oishi maki'!" he says.

Opened in May this year by restaurateur Jerome Wang - also the owner of Mad Thai just next door - Mad Nest aims to live up to its name as "an incubator for emerging local artists and food vendors," says Mr Wang. Operating under a sleek brand like Mad Nest means F&B operators can focus on the food without having to worry about marketing, he explains.

And it works both ways: Mad Nest boasts an extensive menu. There are currently three operators serving Japanese, Northern Indian and Italian fusion cuisine along with an all-day brunch menu. Try the sublime shiro maguro sashimi (smoked in-house) or the jamon iberico croque monsieur (ham-and-cheese sandwich with truffle mayonnaise).

More projects are on the horizon: "We want to do more performance and installation pieces," says Mr Lee. Watch out too for retail items like furniture (upholstery fabric done in-house by Mr Wang, an ex-silkscreen printer-cum-artist) soon.

It's not all about the money. Mr Wang also supports causes he believes in. In June, for example, he helped garner support for the controversial Sticker Lady. It ties in with his philosophy that, so long as he's passionate about something, he will press on.

By Tan Teck Heng

Funky servings of indie spirit
200 South Bridge Road
TEL 6223-4654
Hours: 11.30am-late; closed on Sun

WHEN Eugene Wong set out to start his own business at the tender age of 22, he did not expect to have to trawl through so many real estate options. But after 68 tries, he's finally found a three-storey shophouse lot that feels like home. Hence the name Home@68.

He gives us a quick tour of the space, painted in cheery pumpkin orange: the first level is a chirpy eatery, the second an events space with a shelf of indie designer goods, and the third has full-length mirrors for rent to dancers and musicians.

The marketing and PR undergraduate at Curtin University Singapore is taking two semesters off (and a loan from his parents) to fulfil a dream: Mr Wong wants to provide a site for an indie collective to grow and exchange ideas. "I've about four dollars left in my bank account", he says with a laugh. "If things don't work out in six months, I may just call it a day."

While it's still early days yet (it just opened on Wednesday), he's already started collaborations with Roxanne's Paperie, an indie start-up that does cutesy notebooks and accessories.

"We're putting up items on consignment since we have the space - we believe in helping start-ups like ourselves," says Mr Wong, who's currently in talks with two other indie retailers selling knick-knacks and jewellery. It's all part of the plan to create "a really sincere environment where people are helping others - not because they want to get money out of you, but because they are looking to build links and relationships," he says.

Shoppers who are hungry for more loot will have to wait. In the meantime, they can sample affordable set meals with funky dishes like chilli crab pasta ($12.90) or the migrating salmon ($18.90). But give it a while and Home@68 may just become the next White Room or Blackmarket.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
Senior Sales Director
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA) Pte Ltd (L3006301G)

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